Wish I’d seen this

Matt Jones and Tom Coates on designing for the “new wave of personal informatics.”

Cut free from the surrounding “2.0” hype, this is enormously important stuff. As someone who believes both that practically every place and object in existence should offer some form of open API, and that the design and specification of such APIs is an inherently political act, I’m tremendously interested in what Tom and Matt have to say – to my mind, anyway, the services they’ve personally been involved with, Dopplr and Yahoo!’s Fire Eagle, constitute the leading edge of thought and practice in the domain.

Both the specific types of data provided by running processes and the degree to which such data can be modified by users will, I believe, soon come to constitute the major boundary conditions for urban experience. So I’m absolutely delighted to see such fine thinkers (and friends) getting out ahead of the curve and setting forth such high expectations as clear standards to be met or exceeded.

What they’re wrestling with here is a body of amorphous and slippery but absolutely central questions: just how do everyday urban activities generate data, and how is that data represented? How, specifically, is such data captured by the notional “cloud,” passed between services within it, and then offered back to individual users? How questions like these ultimately get answered will make all the difference between cities that work for the people who live and dream in them, and ones which afford experiences of hassle, dismay and danger.

I particularly like the emphasis here on “politeness,” a quality that genuinely suffuses Dopplr’s extant tone, voice and interface and a consideration that extends to how read/write privileges are handled, how data expiry (“forgetfulness”) is managed, and especially what happens at the endgame. Compare the nightmarish experiences people have had on trying to leave Facebook with the neat way Dopplr handles account closure, for example: one can never be quite sure one is entirely shut of the former, while the latter deletes all of your user information, tells you it’s done so (important!), and leaves you with a zipped file of everything it had been holding. In the hands of folks like Dopplr’s ace developer Matt Biddulph, you’d almost believe that software engineering had finally reckoned fully with the Golden Rule.

In this regard, what exemplars like Dopplr and Fire Eagle demonstrate beautifully is the clear recognition that in any network of distributed functionality, the seams between systems are as important to the way a service is ultimately experienced as the more obvious interface between system and human user. If nothing else, it should be clear that “user experience design” can no longer be understood as being somehow identical with “user interface design.” To my mind, these new standard setters demonstrate just how deep the design of humane systems runs.

4 responses to “Wish I’d seen this”

  1. dan reetz says :

    Supplying a zipped archive of personal data is both thoughtful and merciful.

    Look anywhere and you’ll see developers asking for sensible, open APIs, and rightfully so. The problem is that an API means so little to so many people; they can only harness the power of such access through a developer, and developers almost invariably have at least slightly different interests than the people using their software.

    A comprehensive archive, however, could be opened, explored, graphed and exploited by just about anybody, at any level of sophistication, from MS Paint to Processing to Python and…

    Other sites have done similar things, notably Metafilter — they recently implemented a comment export system here. I’m looking forward to more forward-looking work like that.

  2. tom says :

    Interesting what people can re-invent.

    This looks like a great example of what a mechanism of dominance emphasizing on avoiding acculturation can produce.

    http://www.cai.gouv.qc.ca/06_documentation/01_pdf/european.pdf
    http://www.cnil.fr/index.php?id=4

    America, you will never cease to fascinate me.

  3. AG says :

    You might consider climbing down off that horse you’re on, tom – it’s awfully high:

    (A) Matt and Tom are British;
    (B) The items you link have little enough to do with the point you think you’re making.

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  1. Infovore - 27 April 2008

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